Rio de Janeiro
19.04.2015 - 25.04.2015
Only three days to go now before I fly home. And I can't think of anything I'd rather spend it doing than writing blogs.
I arrived in Rio de Janeiro from Bolivia in the early evening. My hostel in the Copacabana district seemed a lively place at first; on arrival I was given a free caipirinha and there were a lot of people milling about the reception/bar area. I got lucky with my dorm - a bottom bunk and a room full of girls, most of whom were already in bed for some reason. I strolled down to the beach and had a couple of bottles of Skol at one of the bars with a couple of Swedish lads whose combined age was less than my own.
The next few days followed a similar pattern - having a lie in, going for a walk, sheltering from the rain, eating and drinking. It goes without saying that the beaches in Rio are a bit special. I walked along the Copacabana and Ipanema/Leblon beaches a few times, both of which were around the 4km mark. All the expected sights were on show - women in skimpy thongs showing off their bum cheeks, hairy blokes in budgie smugglers, people drinking milk out of coconuts, beach football/volleyball etc. and also some intricate sand sculptures.
In 2003 I spent two weeks in Ipanema with my mate Steve, and I searched out the place in which we stayed - the Ocean Hostel. As my hostel had gone from lively to deserted in a day (I had a 9-bed dorm all to myself) I checked into Ocean for old times' sake after three days in Copacabana. An unapologetic launderette that had not managed to get my washing done on time and then been shut the next day caused me for two of those days to be not wearing any underpants, a detail that may well have gone unmentioned had I not needed to pad this entry out a bit.
Knowing a bit of Spanish was of surprisingly little use in Brazil, Portuguese being the local language. As I discovered on my last visit, there is less similarity between the two languages than expected, and Portuguese sounds more like Russian to me. My tactic was to speak Spanish anyway and say 'obrigado' ('thank you') every now and then and hope for the best, but this approach was mostly met with blank expressions.
I got chatted up one night in one of the beach bars - by a Brazilian gentleman with a goatee who sat at my table. After a brief and very limited conversation due to the language barrier, he asked me to go with him to a nightclub that had a 50 real entry fee (about £11) and which he began his description of with "it's not a gay club but...". I rebuffed his advances.
Evenings out in my six days in Rio were alternately busy and quiet due to there being public holidays on the Tuesday and Thursday. I located a pub that Steve and I had spent almost every night in, an Irish bar called Shenanigans, and it had not changed a bit in the twelve years since. This time I played a lot of games of pool there with a very tall ginger lad from Belfast called Conor who was staying in my hostel.
One evening I returned to my room only to find Conor on the job with a woman twice his age who was also staying in our hostel. He was clearly a fast worker as I had only popped out to the cashpoint before we were meant to be heading on out again.
The next day, Conor and I took part in a game of beach football that was going on in Leblon. As with the performance of their national team in last year's World Cup, the standard was poor. The main tactic appeared to be shoot on sight and hope the ball bounced awkwardly in front of the keeper and went in, and defending and passing seemed to be alien concepts to them.
I had decided that on my last day I should really go and see something, so had booked myself on a tour that took in various sights in and around the city. The day got off to a bad start when a couple in our dorm woke everyone up at the crack of dawn by incessantly shuffling around, rustling bags, zipping and unzipping things and whispering to each other. After half an hour of unnecessary noise a Dutchman lost his temper and got out of bed to remonstrate with them, not that they understood English - all this before 7.30am.
The tour took in a few places I'd been to previously and a few I hadn't. The first port of call was Tijuca Park, the world's biggest urban forest where in 2003 Steve and I had come face to face with a deadly fer-de-lance snake. On this occasion there was no such danger as the trip was 'to' the forest, not 'into' it. There was a waterfall and a marble bath that everyone took photos of, and then we were on our way.
Next up was Corcovado, the local name for the mountain (translation: Hunchback) on which is situated the Christ the Redeemer statue, voted one of the 'New 7 Wonders Of The World' in 2007. It was a working day so the queues were mercifully short (reports suggested we may have to wait an hour but it was ten minutes at most in our case). There were still scores of people up there, all taking photos of their mates with their arms outstretched in mimicry of the statue. Its enormous hands were modelled on those of a woman according to our guide, but the chin appeared to be based on mine.
More spectacular than the statue in my opinion was the view of the city. This photo shows the Botafogo district, with Sugarloaf Mountain jutting out into the bay.
From there we drove to the district of Lapa. One of the attractions there is the Selarón Steps that are located between two streets on the border of the Lapa and Santa Teresa neighbourhoods. Affixed onto these steps are a number of themed tiles, placed there by an artist called Jorge Selarón. At first Selarón decorated just the steps outside his house, but he eventually covered all 250. Initially the tiles were scavenged from piles of rubble but as his work became more renowned, donations arrived from all over the world. I saw several from England, depicting such things as London buses, Princess Diana and the Beatles. Selarón was found dead in mysterious circumstances lying on the steps outside his house two years ago, the official explanation being that he'd set himself on fire.
The tour finally dropped us off at Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain). It was quite expensive and took a couple of cable cars to get up there but it was well worth it thanks to the views it gave over Guanabara Bay in particular.
In the trees up the mountain we saw small monkeys known as Common Marmosets, but sadly I was too slow to take a photograph.
So, after six days, my time in Rio was at an end. Only two more places to visit, and therefore only two more blogs to go before I can finally give it up (although I have an idea for a third). For now though, it's goodbye from me, and goodbye to Keith Harris.